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US Poverty Rate Declines, but Number Without Health Insurance Increases


A new U.S. Census Bureau report shows that the poverty rate in the United States has gone down slightly for the first time this decade. VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington that the 2006 report also has some bad news for American families, with more people living without health insurance and children making up the bulk of the nation's poor.

In 2006, the U.S. national poverty rate decreased to 12.3 percent, from 12.6 percent a year earlier. This means that last year some 36.5 million Americans were living below the poverty line, defined as having an annual income of about $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a family of four.

Median household income rose, to more than $48,000 a year, but the Census Bureau said more people in each household had to work to account for that increase.

Robert Greenstein, the executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the new figures show that recent economic growth has been uneven, bypassing many low and middle income families. "We find the new census figures disappointing for the fifth year of an economic recovery. They show a significant decline in poverty for people over 65, but no significant decline for children, or adults aged 18 to 64," he said.

The census reports show that poverty in the United States is higher in the South and the West, and that African-American households have the lowest median income of any group.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, finds the Census Bureau's definition of who is poor far too broad. "The typical American household defined as poor by the government has a car, has air conditioning, has a refrigerator, stove, clothes washer, dryer, microwave, has two color televisions, has cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR and DVD and a stereo," he said.

Rector said, in addition to securing full-time work, people who want to avoid poverty should be married before having children.

The new figures come at time when the U.S. economy has slowed and the 2008 presidential campaign is already well under way. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has made poverty his number one issue, but analysts say health care and health insurance are likely to play a bigger role in the race for the White House. The 2006 census shows the number of Americans without health insurance has increased to 47 million, the highest number ever.

The Census Bureau says the decline in health insurance can largely be attributed to businesses cutting down on private, employer-based coverage.

The leading Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, said when she began the fight for universal health insurance coverage almost 15 years ago there were 37 million people uninsured. She said it was an outrage then, and it is a deeper outrage today.

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